It’s almost the end of February, which means it’s time for us to survey elder law news and share items we think are interesting or entertaining. This month, we’re struck by the number of developments involving the rich and famous, both living and gone. So that’s our focus for February.
February’s Most Famous Faces
For starters, former president Jimmy Carter, at age 98, entered hospice care. That got people talking about how hospice care works. As the piece says: “Hospice provides end-of-life palliative care with a focus on the patient’s comfort and dignity. Pain relief is a priority, while treatments intended to prolong life are discontinued.” What follows is general information about hospice–who is eligible, how to choose an agency, and what the care entails. The more interesting content is in the 300+ comments about readers’ personal experiences. There, you’ll see good experience and bad, and more advice from people who have been there. Another commentator notes that having such a high-profile personality announce the use of hospice helps counter stigma and emphasize compassion at the end of life.
The other major celebrity development was that actor Bruce Willis, at 67, is suffering from a type of dementia called FTD, or frontotemporal dementia. His family announced that he had aphasia in 2022 and shares the new diagnosis because “Bruce always believed in using his voice in the world to help others, and to raise awareness about important issues both publicly and privately. We know in our hearts that – if he could today — he would want to respond by bringing global attention and a connectedness with those who are also dealing with this debilitating disease and how it impacts so many individuals and their families.” FTD is a devastating illness; it’s the most common dementia in people under age 67, and there’s no treatment. Experts at the U of A weighed in on how Willis’ struggle can put a spotlight on the caregiver shortage and the toll caregiving takes on family members.
Other February Celeb News
- The dispute over Lisa Marie Presley’s trust teaches an important lesson about making changes to your estate plan: Be careful!
- Rick James’ estate is being sued for unpaid royalties even though the funkmaster has been dead nearly 20 years. The plaintiffs say the estate has continued to profit from music they wrote.
More on Dementia & Aging
If the Bruce Willis news has you worried about whether your forgetfulness might be a scary sign, this article and this one discuss what is normal and what isn’t when it comes to aging and memory. But here we learn that dementia is not the only cause of cognitive decline. Other factors include socioeconomic factors and physical health behaviors, including exercise and smoking.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 11 million Americans care for someone with dementia–unpaid and usually untrained. NPR interviewed the founder and CEO of Positive Approach to Care, which offers training for dementia caregivers, and she (surprise) thinks more training would help. We tend to agree. Another thing that can help: Having a care plan before a crisis occurs.
If a loved one is aging and living alone, you may want to assess whether that’s appropriate. This article includes some things to look for and steps to take. One interesting statistic: An elderly person dies from a fall every 19 minutes in the United States. You can help prevent that by removing area rugs, installing grab bars, and using a fall detection monitor.
These sobering developments are only going to get more prevalent. The Washington Post picked up on a report from the U.S. Administration for Community Living. It points out that 17% of people living in the United States–more than 1 in 6–were 65 or older in 2020. That’s 55.7 million people, an increase of 15.2 million (38 percent) of people 65 and above since 2010. The report projects a climb to roughly 80.8 million residents 65 and older by 2040, more than double the number in 2000.
February’s Best Dispute
Our favorite development involving a famous person’s estate is this one. The heirs of artist Thomas Hart Benton are suing the Benton estate administrators. They say UMB Bank, which has served as trustee, has mismanaged the trust since 1975. Trial is under way. Among the heirs’ counsel’s accusations: the bank routinely sold artwork to UMB insiders and customers ranging from the Kansas City Chiefs to former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and handled sales with art brokers and dealers who had conflicts of interest. Plus, UMB never told the Benton family about these insider transactions. That’s why the heirs can still sue after all this time. (If beneficiaries have no notice of something going wrong, the statute of limitations does not run.) The dispute has been ugly for some time, and the heirs seek at least $65 million and maybe up to $95 million in damages.
If you are an artist or collector, Morgan Stanley has some advice about how to help make sure the assets are managed as you intended after your death. That might have been helpful in the Benton estate.
In Other Estate Lawsuit News . . .
- A widow in the UK whose husband tried to disinherit her, has won half of his estate.
- After lawsuit settlement, the estate of billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife seeks $70 million tax refund. They argue the lawsuit payout and expenses were deductible.
- A Louisville, Kentucky, TV station pulled an interesting estate dispute story from their fault. When Charles Bronson fan Audrey Knauer died at age 56, she left her estate to the “talented character actor.” She wrote her wishes by hand on an emergency phone list from a telephone book. Her family disputed the will, and the dispute ended in a settlement.
This & That
More items of interest that came our way in February:
- Estate planning tips . . . for digital assets, after a divorce, paying income tax (or not) with a grantor trust, generally avoiding tax, and the benefits of trusts.
- Are you upset that the Secure Act mostly put an end to the “stretch” for IRAs? Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary notes that you are not alone, but also that some see the changes as perfectly reasonable.
- Plus, another take on What is Elder Law? (We noted another one in the January review.)